The Excelsior, Surry Hills


The Empire Hotel, Annandale

Saturday, November 26, 2006


A night of fun on a couple of fronts. Too bad it ’s hard to be in two places at the same time, but dem’s the breaks.
First to the Shake It festival, another outstanding showcase of bands with links to Barfly Promotions, the I-94 Bar and Melbourne’s Off the Hip label whose titular head, garagemesiter Mickster, is nothing if not omnipresent. Tonight, he’s working the merch stand, keeping the bar staff busy and drumming for headliners The Crusaders; the evening before he was thumping tubs for the very excellent psych-rockers The Lords of Gravity.

Unfortunately, I missed the Friday night line-up (The Lords of Gravity, The Dolly Rocker Movement, Mink Jaguar and The Astral Kaleidoscope) due to a combination of working late, the self-inflicted ill-effects of a huge Xmas party on the Thursday night and a back that wouldn’t let me stand up straight. The first two are perennial and reasonably easily overcome, but the third factor only fell away after an intensive Saturday morning session of chiropractic manipulation. By all accounts, Friday was a huge night made all the more crowded due to temporary renovations at The Empire cutting the band room in half. I’d been dead keen on catching The Dolly Rockers with their debut album now out and about and the Lords, who have a collection of new songs just begging to be showcased. Plus, Mink Jaguar are one of the best pub bands in Sydney, so the loss was all mine (and yours, too, if you didn’t make the effort).
Tonight’s second instalment of Shake It kicks off with Ian Wettenhall’s new band, Wrong Hand Turn, which turns out to be him and a drummer. Duos seem to be all the rage at the moment and if the approach tonight is straight-forward rather than gimmicky, it’s still great stuff. A few days later I’m regretting I didn’t grab a set list to drop a few names (it was a mix of familiar and new) but there’s ample guitar to fill the room, if a couple of the songs shudder momentarily from under-rehearsal. The minor glitches are taken with good humour. Do yourself a favour etc. etc.
Not much to say about Johnny Casino and The Secrets other than they’re grabbing all; the good supports around town with good reason. Next up is the undercard to The Soundtrack Of Our Lives and the New Christs which is one gig that’s near unmissable. What I see of tonight’s set (about a third of it) is all good and derives more from the rootsy rock and roll of the Groovies than the cut-and-thrust of the Detroit crew.


Word is some interesting guests are adding some final touches to the debut album (no names here just in case there’s a change of plans - but keep your ears open). I head across town to catch The Painkillers with regrets that I wasn’t hanging around for the full set, not to mention catching The Crusaders and Perth visitors The New Invincibles (one of whose number was spotted earlier writing out a set list with the aid of one of his band's own CDs fromt he merch stand).
Support band Devil Rock Four are into their last song at The Ex in front of a small crowd, in town from Melbourne. Apart from headscarves (a la Johnny Thunders) there’s not a lot I can tell you. The summation from someone who should know is that they were very excellent cock rock, and while I have far too many promos in the pipeline to go and scrounge a copy of their CD, the word was pretty positive.
If it was Cock Rock it was well removed from what’s up next and it’s a shame the room isn’t full for Perth visitors The Painkillers. They are drummer James Baker and guitarist/vocalist Joe Bludge and you could say they do a nice line in punk-folk. Baker is a founding father of and/or sometimes unwitting attitudinal role model for much of what we’ve come to know as Australian trash punk. A member of the Scientists, the Beasts of Bourbon and the (le) Hoodoo Gurus, he’s been near invisible on the East Coast since the demise of would-be International Big Deal, the Dubrovniks. Joe Bludge is a bit of a dark horse – a generation younger than James and a fixture on the small Perth blues scene. There’s a bit of a Hoodoo Gurus reunion going on in the front bar when I arrive with Clyde Bramley and James Baker firmly in control of glasses of amber fluid. Good to see.

For a duo travelling light there’s no shortage of friends/followers assisting with changeovers between sets. Not that there’s a lot to set up other than an amp and a kit. Joe takes the stage in mild-mannered shirt, tailored slacks and bare feet and when James is prised away from Clyde et al at the bar, it’s in characteristic striped T-shirt, leather pants and Cuban heels. Trash rock chic.
If you haven’t wrapped your ears around the quirky charms of The Painkillers’ self-titled debut album you’re missing out, and the first few songs show the duo have been writing new material and moving forward. The Painkillers keep it simple and distinctive. Baker’s ebb-and-flow drums provide the rolling dynamics and bedrock, Bludge’s driving acoustic guitar and off-kilter vocals the colour. It’s as “punk” (whatever that means) as you want it to be in its attitude - and it’s worth reflecting that 99 percent of songs written in that genre were probably worked up on a battered acoustic six-string anyway.
My only misgivings were (a.) that what looked like a hired kit (you expected James Baker to haul his own all the way from Perth?) sounded like a bag of shit and (b.) the brunette in the shorts and thongs down front had the most annoying in-between song banshee scream I’d heard in many a month.

Sydney garage rock fixture Craig Moorebeers (aka the Tommy Iommi look-alike at the front of most shows) asks for – and gets – a segue into “I Wanna Be Your Dog” (where would Sydney be without the Stooges?) but the bulk of the set is self-penned. “Lonely Planet Boy” and - from out of left-field - Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (there’s that scream again) are the exceptions to that rule and both well-delivered. The online “hit” “Drunk On a Train” gets an outing late in the piece.
The killers for mine, however, are the ‘geographical chick tunes’ - “Soho Girl” and “Redfern Girl” – which are left to the encore. James Baker is happy to remain “the drummer…just a drummer…in a rock and roll band” but alludes to his one and only solo single as a vocalist (“Born to Be Punched” b/w “I Can’t Control Myself” on Redeye – just try and find a copy, if you can) with a shouted “Oh No!” as he passes the microphone after the set proper. If it wasn’t a seminal moment, it was a fucking funny one.